28 February 2009

Ni'lin: Opposed to Israeli Occupation, But Sympathetic to the Suffering of the Jews

A Ni'lin anti-Wall protest (PIC, 12/17/08).

And Now For Something Completely Different
By Rebecca Vilkomerson / February 28, 2009

For a change of pace from our usual dose of death and destruction, an inspiring story:

The village of Ni'lin has paid a particularly high price for its struggle against the Wall and annexation of its lands, including two children who were shot and killed by the Israeli Army in the summer of 2008. Nevertheless, the people of the village continue to protest at least once a week against the Wall, joined by Israeli activists, in particular Anarchists Against the Wall, as well as international activists.

The article below tells the remarkable story of how the people of Ni'lin have put together an exhibit to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the near destruction of European Jewry under the Nazis.

Activists who have been in Ni'lin recently told me that the reason they heard for the village committee putting together the exhibit was this: if Israeli activists care enough to come to their village to learn about the Palestinian struggle and act in solidarity with Palestinians, they feel obligated to learn Jewish history as well.

This is what solidarity looks like.

Ni'lin pays tribute to Jewish victims of the Holocaust
By George H. Hale / 26 February 2009

BETHLEHEM – Every Friday, the West Bank village of Ni'lin is home to some of the most violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian, Israeli and international demonstrators.

Each week, activists from the village's Land Defence Committee stage demonstrations at the Separation Barrier which cuts off as much as half the village's farmland and water from its inhabitants.

As a reporter for a Palestinian news agency in Bethlehem, I too travelled to Ni'lin, but last weekend beheld a spectacle perhaps more remarkable than these weekly Barrier protests: Villagers had set up an exhibition to coincide with the United Nations-declared International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January, an exhibition organised by Ni'lin's Popular Committee Against the Wall.

Hassan Moussa, the exhibition's organiser, spoke to me over the phone from Ni'lin. And despite the hot-headed rhetoric coming from both sides that weekend (a number of protesters were tear-gassed just hours before), Moussa explained that the exhibit was organised with the most noble of intentions.

"This is a way of extending our sympathy for the Jews," and the Palestinians' way of extending that sympathy "to the Israeli people, themselves," he says.

"Nobody thinks war will lead to peace and security. It will lead to more violence and hatred and agony, as well as suffering to this area, which is neither in our interest, nor the Israelis."

Since late January the people of Ni'lin have opted to complement their demonstrations with something "to show the Israelis that we feel sorry for them."

As a Palestinian activist, Moussa says he also wants to convey his suffering: "My suffering will not lead to peace. When I lose my land, it's like losing your heart from your body."

The village's Municipality hosted the Holocaust Remembrance Exhibition at its headquarters in Ni'lin, where organisers say more than 1,000 visitors have paid tribute to the victims of Nazi atrocities committed against Europe's Jews.

The exhibition of posters and texts, provided by an Israeli Holocaust museum, details "the genocide that was committed against the Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s in Germany and in other parts of Europe," Moussa explains.

"We admit that there was terrible pain inflicted on the Jewish people as a result of this genocide," he says. "We are feeling sorry for this genocide."

Moussa added that "the Palestinians have no connection at all with that genocide… It is our fate to live on this land so we have to live in peace—only peace can bring security," he explains.

"We feel sorry for you," Moussa says when pressed for his message to the Israeli people. "Our hand is extended in peace; we are ready to make peace with the Israeli government."

"We want peace for the people of Israel, and the people of Palestine and the people of the world, as well," he says. "This is our way to express this message; it is our message to the whole world."

The exhibit is not only intended for Israelis, though a number have attended. "Frankly speaking, the people who came and visited the exhibition, [for the] first time saw something about this genocide," Moussa says. "They heard some from their history books, but this is the first time they saw the pictures."

The most common Palestinian reaction after seeing the horrifying images, Moussa tells me, is that "they feel sorry; they feel really sorry for the [Jews], once they see the posters."

One in five of the village's 5,000 residents are estimated to have viewed the exhibition, with hundreds more from Israel and elsewhere in the West Bank. It is still open to the public at the village's municipality building.

"We received so many visitors," Moussa says. "Even some Israeli activists came to have a look at the exhibition." Particularly interested were those Israelis whose ancestors survived the Holocaust: "They came and they appreciated the idea."

"And they expressed their sorrow for us," Moussa notes. "Their message, as well as my message, is to create a new type of generation that really believes in peace."

[George Hale is a journalist with Ma'an News Agency, a Palestinian newswire. He lives in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).]

Source: Common Ground News Service, 26 February 2009, www.commongroundnews.org.

Source / Jewish Peace news

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

NATO Has Developed a Strict Scenario to Convey Its Positive Message

A US soldier poses with a dead Afghani man in the hills of Afghanistan.

Truth in Reporting: Meaningless to NATO in Afghanistan
By Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog / February 28, 2009

Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know with certainty that the truth about what's happening militarily in Afghanistan does not matter to NATO and the US military. What matters is that we understand what they believe they are trying to do there. Also important is that we recognize that everything they are trying to do there is honourable.

I still recall as a child the derision with which we viewed the Soviet Union, Pravda, and everything else communist. It is astounding to see, in retrospect, that the US has been nearly as controlling of its media as the Soviets ever were, particularly in the past 40 years or so.

Here is what Wikileaks has to say about the documents they discovered:

Wikileaks cracks NATO's Master Narrative for Afghanistan
February 27, 2009

Wikileaks has cracked the encryption to a key document relating to the war in Afghanistan. The document, titled "NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative", details the "story" NATO representatives are to give to, and to avoid giving to, journalists.

The encrypted document, which is dated October 6, and believed to be current, can be found on the Pentagon Central Command (CENTCOM) website oneteam.centcom.mil. [UPDATE: Fri Feb 27 15:18:38 GMT 2009, the entire Pentagon site is now down--probably in response to this editorial.]

The encryption password is progress, which perhaps reflects the Pentagon's desire to stay on-message, even to itself.

Among the revelations, which we encourage the press to review in detail, is Jordan's presense as secret member of the US lead occupation force, the ISAF.

Jordan is a middle eastern monarchy, backed by the US, and historically the CIA's closest partner in its extraordinary rendition program. "the practice of torture is routine" in the country, according to a January 2007 report by UN special investigator for torture, Manfred Nowak.1

The document states NATO spokespersons are to keep Jordan's involvement secret. Publicly, Jordan withdrew in 2001 and the country does not appear on this month's public list of ISAF member states.2

Some other notes on matters to treat delicately are:

* Any decision on the end date/end state will be taken by the respective national and/or Alliance political committee. Under no circumstances should the mission end-date be a topic for speculation in public by any NATO/ISAF spokespeople.
* The term "compensation" is inappropriate and should not be used because it brings with it legal implications that do not apply.
* Any talk of stationing or deploying Russian military assets in Afghanistan is out of the question and has never been the subject of any considerations.
* Only if pressed: ISAF forces are frequently fired at from inside Pakistan, very close to the border. In some cases defensive fire is required, against specific threats. Wherever possible, such fire is pre-coordinated with the Pakistani military.

Altogether four classified or restricted NATO documents on the Pentagon Central Command (CENTCOM) site were discovered to share the 'progress' password. Wikileaks has decrypted the documents and released them in full:

* NATO Media Operations Centre: NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative, 6 Oct 2008
* ISAF Afghanistan Theatre Strategic Communications Strategy, 25 Oct 2008
* NATO-ISAF Afghanistan Strategic Communications External Linkages, 20 Oct 2008
* NATO-ISAF Strategic Communications Ends, Ways and Means, slide, 20 Oct 2008

Now that's progress.


1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/30/AR2007113002484_pf.html
2. http://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/epub/pdf/isaf_placemat.pdf

H/t Juan Cole / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

27 February 2009

Beckett on the Two-State Solution

A Palestinian man sits next to a whimsical stenciling on Israel's
separation barrier in the West Bank village of A-Ram.

Too Late for Two-State? The Battle for the Future of Palestine and Israel
By Paul Beckett / The Rag Blog / February 27, 2009

“Two states, side by side, living in peace.” What a beautiful vision! With these and similar excellent words the Obama administration undertakes another revival of the Israeli-Palestinian “Peace Process” (already revived as often as a Red Cross training dummy).

Why should we not believe in the vision? The way to such a genuine, final two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would seem to be wide open.

Twice, at two Arab League summits (Beirut, 2002, Riyadh 2007) the Arab nations have in unanimity offered Israel an immediate and permanent peace (including diplomatic recognition) on the basis of a two-state solution. With one exception (see below) it's a very clean proposal: Israel gives up the territories it conquered in 1967, withdrawing behind the Green Line boundary, and a Palestinian state is created in the released area.

Worldwide acceptance would be immediate. The Green Line is already recognized as Israel's border by all nations except Israel. The Green Line's legality as a boundary has recently been confirmed by the World Court. The Arab proposal is essentially the solution called for by U.N. bodies any number of times, beginning with Resolution 242 in November 1967, which laid down that most important principle of post-World War II international law: “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”

Historians meanwhile would appreciate that a Palestinian state would, in fact, complete the original promise of the U.N.'s 1947 partition of British Palestine, when provision was made for an Arab state as well as a Jewish one within the mandatory territory.

But: would the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza be willing to accept such a settlement (complete Israeli withdrawal accompanied by Palestinian statehood) and make permanent peace?

Recent polls (as well as not so recent ones) suggest they would, in large majorities. Even the "hard-line" Hamas leadership has given hint after hint of being prepared to live with Israel in peace provided Palestinians have the normal rights of statehood, and providing Israel is on the other side of the Green Line.

Would there be advantages to Israel from such a solution? Certainly. Besides the benefits of peace itself, a true resolution of the conflict could enable Israel to take up a natural role of economic engine within the Middle East, a region of huge and heretofore underdeveloped potential.

Now, above I mentioned an exception: a kind of blemish on the “cleanness” and simplicity of the Arab League offer.

This concerns the Palestinian refugees. The Arab League peace offer requires a “just solution” to this problem. Right-to-return for some 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants? Well (it must be admitted) this part of two-state is not simple. But the insider consensus is that it can and will be “finessed” with only token returns by the refugees of 1948 and 1967 to Israel. There will be far more resettlement in other countries, and a whole lot of side payments. Messy certainly. And ugly. It’s made the worse by the fact that Israel maintains the most generous right-of-return – for Jews only – of any nation.

But insiders know ugly things do happen. Finessing ugliness is in their job descriptions. The messy and difficult refugee question will be handled, if the other things are.

All of the above makes a two-state solution sound feasible – a historic opportunity that should be seized.

So why are there a whole bunch of intellectuals – Palestinian, Israeli, and other – spitting in the optimism, and telling us a two-state solution has become impossible? What arguments do they make?

The arguments also are simple: Israel won't do it. And Israel can't do it.

What exactly won’t and can’t the Israeli government do?

They won't allow a Palestinian state. And they won't withdraw behind the Green Line. Either of these assertions, if true, kills the two-state idea. But let's look at both.

Take state, first. What is a state? A state (like Israel, to take one example) has sovereignty over a geographic territory. It both serves and has authority over its citizens, and represents them to other states and other peoples. It has (or would like to, anyway) a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within the territory through its armed forces, and it has the duty to defend its territory and people against attack by other states or peoples. It has authority over its international borders (land and sea), its air space, and its resources of land and minerals.

A Palestinian state would have these attributes. It would have to, to be a state.

Using this simple and quite uncontroversial definition, is Israel willing - and politically able - to agree to a Palestinian state?

Alas, no.

Israel's position can be teased out from the voluminous but deliberately murky record of "offers" (really, "offers" implied, suggested, posited, intuited, because they have never been forthrightly issued and set down) made to the Palestinian negotiators during the so-called Peace Process.

The phrase Palestinian "state" has been used by the U.S. and – seemingly grudgingly – by Israel, especially since the 2002 Road Map stage.

But the details that can be teased out are the following:

The Palestinian entity (let’s not misuse the term “state”) would not have an army to defend its territory against attack (guess who might chose to attack). Israel would retain "security responsibilities" for many roads and areas within the Palestinian entity. The major settlement blocs would be annexed to Israel, and they, together with security roads and other areas under continuing Israeli control would divide the already tiny area into several canton-like enclaves.

Further, the Palestinian entity would not have control of its international boundaries (it would be cut off from Jordan by an Israeli corridor along the river, and Israel would indirectly control the Rafah border with Egypt). It would not have sovereign control of its air space, nor of Gaza’s sea frontage. It would not have control of its external electronic communications. Amazingly, the so-called "state" would not even have sovereign jurisdiction over the water resources that lie under its soil (Israel, at present, draws much of that water for its own uses, and then sells some back to the Palestinians).

This would not be a Palestinian state. Israeli sovereign control over all the territory – from the Jordan River to the sea – would have a new disguise, but would be unchanged in essence.

Let's look now at the second simple requirement for a two-state solution: Israeli withdrawal behind the Green Line.

This has become a political impossibility. Israel has closed this door on itself – and put padlocks on it – and thrown away the keys. Israel has built the separation barrier (some 80% of it on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. Israel has made itself dependent on West Bank water resources, and has created the ideological and cultural climate of ethnic fear that entrenches Jewish support for "separation" (for which "Apartheid" really is an exact translation).

Above all, Israel under every government since 1967 has created settlements on the occupied soil of East Jerusalem and the West Bank that now have around 400,000 Jewish residents. Many of these are now second- and third-generation. Israeli leaders of the enterprise have, with a kind of sly humor, referred to the settlements project as creating "facts on the ground." Many of them, speaking candidly, have acknowledged (with satisfaction) that they are ensuring that the West Bank lands captured in 1967 can never be returned to the Palestinians. A senior Israeli political advisor is reported to have joked that even the scattered West Bank settlements would be withdrawn “when the Palestinians turn into Finns.”

There is every reason to think that the settlers and their political supporters are completely right in thinking that the settlements are there virtually forever.

Israel’s weak system of democratic government (which excludes the Palestinian fifth of its population from political influence) is heavily militarized and gives disproportionate representation to the political right. The Jewish settlers living in occupied territory (West Bank and East Jerusalem) constitute less than 10% of Israel's total Jewish population. But, especially since the withdrawal of the settlements from Gaza, the settlers, led by their youth generation, have become an almost independent force in Israeli politics. They shrewdly evoke resonance with the generation of pioneer Jewish settlers before Israeli independence. Meanwhile, in recent decades they have made themselves over-represented in the ranks of Israel's armed forces, especially the combat divisions.

The settlers' credo is to "grab more hills," not give them up. The settler community and their Israel-proper supporters mounted a convincing show of political force as they histrionically opposed the Gaza evacuation. Anyone who previously gave credence to the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (per the Arab states' offer, for instance) must have come to understand what a complete political impossibility such a withdrawal represents.

Where does this leave us?

With the conclusion that the nays have it: it is too late to have “two states, side by side, living in peace.” If this simple, clear solution ever glimmered as a real possibility, it was in the years immediately following the 1967 seizure, or (briefer and weaker) at the time of Oslo. No Israeli government of the present or foreseeable future would (or could) agree to a genuine Palestinian statehood. Nor could any reverse the four decades of colonization in the occupied Palestinian territories.

What are the alternatives? There are two. One is an indefinite continuation of Israeli occupation (probably with minor withdrawals and deeper disguises). The other is a single state, from the Jordan River to the sea, giving citizenship and equal rights to all within it. Each of these alternatives will be explored in subsequent articles. A great struggle for the future of Palestine, and for the soul of Israel, is ahead.

[Paul Beckett lives near a small lake in the university town of Madison, Wisconsin. In the past he lived in Nigeria and he co-authored books and wrote articles on Nigerian and African politics. Now he is active in a number of progressive causes and organizations including The Madison Institute, the Progressive Roundtable, and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. He is films librarian for the latter. Much of his reading and writing now focuses on the Israel-Palestine situation. He is on the lazy side with all too many recreational interests, but might manage to do a book on Israel-Palestine next year. He can be reached at snkbeckett@yahoo.com.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

If Not Now, When? Ending the Drug War

Wizard's culture-jammed version of a print ad for a popular cleanser envisions potential benefits of medicinal cannabis, still illegal in 36 states, if US researchers were freed of prohibition-mandated limitations.

IF NOT NOW, WHEN? Ending the drug war
By Mariann G. Wizard / The Rag Blog / February 27, 2009

As The Rag Blog reports on important developments in Washington, DC and in California within the last few days, in which the idea of ending cannabis ("marijuana"; hemp) prohibition has overnight become politically possible for elected and appointed government officials to discuss in public, it is important to realize a few bottom-line truths:

1. Cannabis prohibition and the so-called war-on-drugs have become deeply rooted in our society, and even if federal prohibition were overturned tomorrow, in an unprecedented act of Congressional lucidity and courage, it would take much longer to root out its remnants in public housing policies, educational loan discrimination, employment discrimination, and more. The beast has grown strong since 1937.

2. There are ten thousand reasons to legalize cannabis, for every purpose and use that clever men and women can devise. The only reasons to continue prohibition are:
a) to continue locking up ordinary men and women who have done nothing more than smoke pot, to the detriment of themselves, their families, and society as a whole; and/or
b) to increase the importance of prison-building, prison-supplying, prisoner-exploiting, urine-testing, fake-drug-"rehab"-program-running, snitch-and-narc character traits, and prison-guard-as-employment-preference in the Land of the Free, while thousands of rape kits go unopened, and crimes of violence unpursued, in police agencies across the country.

3. The escalating drug violence in Mexico, and the mounting death toll, may be laid squarely at the feet of an unscientific, unconstitutional, immoral, and ignorant attempt to flout the law of supply and demand, and of people like you and me, who know the truth, and allow their elected representatives to think differently. In breaking news on Friday, Arizona's Attorney General suggested that US marijuana legalization could end Mexico's cartel violence.

4. All those silly, hippy-dippy things you heard about "hemp" in the 1980s: that it is a renewable, nontoxic fuel source; that it is a fabulous, nutritious food; that anything that can be make from plastic can be made from biodegradeable hemp -- ARE ALL TRUE. They were true in 1920 when the Scientific American wrote about them, and they will continue to be true -- AND OTHER COUNTRIES WILL BENEFIT FROM ACTING ON THE KNOWLEDGE -- until Kingdom come! Failure to act upon it will more surely consign our nation to the dustbin of history than any terrorist plot.

The announcement that the Drug Enforcement Agency will no longer attempt to enforce federal laws where they conflict with state statutes regarding medical marijuana use; the introduction of legislation in California, no matter how unlikely its passage, to legalize, regulate, and tax the number one cash agricultural crop in America; and the recognition by corporate news shapers that the "wacky tobacky" has much more to offer than a doper's "pipe dream", are visible twigs floating on top of a deep, broad, fast-moving river of change. They are joined by the El Paso City Council majority's desire for an open and honest public discussion of drug prohibition; by Harris County (Houston) judges calling for legal treatment of cocaine to be the same as for high-fructose corn syrup; and by many more visible signs that the tide of the drug war has turned. The only people who still claim that prohibition "works", or is valid on any grounds, are people who make a living from it (including certain media hacks, of course)!

But it will still take courage to win through to the potential victory, a victory with far-reaching positive benefits for the US and the world, a world that could know bounty, for once, and peace. Isn't that what we've been working for all these years? Wouldn't that be worth an occasional doobie?

President Obama's official stance is that he is "not in favor of legalizing marijuana." But even that much is far different from what every previous president since Reagan has tried to promulgate, and I assure you, my dearly beloved, lazy homo dopers out there, riding the pineapple express, that if enough of YOU are for legalization, we will (eventually) be able to win him over. It is this simple: stand up for what you know is right. Tell the people you elect to represent you to end cannabis prohibition. Do it now.

[Mariann G. Wizard was among original Rag founders and is a frequent contributor to The Rag Blog. She reviews scientific and regulatory publications for the Austin, TX-based American Botanical Council.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Alan Pogue : My History With Violence

Alan Pogue and Tracey, the woman whose life he saved. The photo was taken by D'Ann Johnson on Nov. 4, 2008, during the trial of Willie McDade, Alan's assailant.
"One late night in late April of this year, Alan Pogue was severely beaten when he tried to save a woman’s life on a street corner in east Austin. The woman. . . was being pounded by two others. Alan -- the noted Austin photojournalist, social activist and frequent contributor to these pages -- pulled the two women away from their victim but was sucker punched [by a man he hadn't seen]. . ."
I wrote those words in The Rag Blog last November, introducing an article Alan Pogue wrote for us about that incident -- where he risked his life to save another. Alan, was the staff photographer for The Rag in late Sixties Austin, and for a time lived in his darkroom there. [The Rag, our inspiration, was an underground newspaper, now something of a legend in these parts.]

Alan Pogue has written a remarkable article for The Texas Observer about that harrowing night at Chicon and Rosewood in east Austin. He also recounts his personal history with and his philosophy about the use of violence – from being beaten up as a kid and serving as a medic in Vietnam to a series of incidents in recent times where he has turned to his knowledge of self-defense to help himself and others.

That Observer article, My History of Violence, appears in full below, preceded by some further reflections Alan has written for The Rag Blog.

Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / February 27, 2009
Remembering Kitty Genovese, and buying a gun.
In March of 1964 Winston Moseley stabbed Kitty Genovese on the street in Queens, New York... I vividly remember the article on this crime and that no one helped. I never want to be like those 38 people who would not help.
By Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog / February 27, 2009

The Texas Observer asked me to write a first person account about being jumped while helping a woman in distress at Chicon and Rosewood in Austin. Here is some background on my attacker. He was 25 years old and has been in and out of detention since he was 12. His aggravated assault on me was his third conviction. His father has four felony convictions. I'm told his family does not want him around. He had been out of prison only for a few months when he attacked me. He and his friends were using and selling crack. One may assume he has mental problems.

At the trial his lawyer did his best but there was little doubt about the facts of the case. My attacker showed no remorse or even that he cared at all about what was happening at the trial. Now he is in prison where I doubt anything good will be done for him. On the other hand he is a clear danger and needs to be off of the streets.

The drug bazaar at 12th and Chicon has been there since I came to Austin in 1968. The drug dealers there keep to themselves and their customers. There are some people there who clearly have mental problems. Also there are runaways. Some are prostituting themselves for drugs. Since this is all very obvious one wonders why no concerted effort is made to address the problems. There are plenty of churches nearby but they only do occasional and superficial forays to 12th and Chicon. Much of the action has moved east down 13th street. The drug dealers usually wear something red to indicate they are with the Bloods, or are Blood wannabes. There are other hot spots in north and southeast Austin. The Capitol is another story.

In March of 1964 Winston Moseley stabbed Kitty Genovese on the street in Queens, New York. Thirty eight people heard her screams but no one helped. Moseley went away but then came back and stabbed Genovese again, killing her. I vividly remember the article on this crime and that no one helped. I never want to be like those 38 people who would not help. Moseley is still in prison and he has shown no remorse. He escaped and committed a brutal rape before he was caught again.

But if you do stop to render aid you better be prepared for the worst. Besides not calling 911 before I got out of my car I failed to look around carefully for others who might be involved. Sometimes situations like this are set up to trap people who might help. Stopping to help with a flat tire could be a life threatening situation. That was not the case this time but the result was the same. In the past I have been able to handle attackers that I saw coming.

This time my attention was fixed in front of me, bad. Reflecting on what happened I now know that my attacker had another friend in his car. Had I overcome my attacker I might have had to deal with the other man and the two women. As it is I am fortunate not to have lost the sight in my right eye. As bad as I was hurt, at least I was not shot or stabbed.

But the ghost of Kitty Genovese is still with me. If I come upon another person who is in danger of being raped and/or killed I will help. Since my incident many people have stopped me to relate equally horrible stories about what happened to them. Just a month ago a couple was brutally beaten by four men at 4th and Colorado in Austin. Two people who stopped were also beaten.

So, thinking about all this, I did some research on pistols and came up with the Taurus "Judge" .45/.410. It is a five shot revolver that fires either .45 Colt bullets or .410 shotgun shells. The medium sized shot (like little BBs) .410 shell throws a very wide pattern, about 36" at eight feet. This is a much wider circle than a regular shotgun throws. So with medium to small shot it would not be lethal unless the attacker insisted on getting very close. "00" buck shot is lethal, as well as are slugs and the regular .45 Colt bullet.

Of course one may not use any kind of gun unless actually under immediate threat of death or serious harm. As I was. But once you are out of your home or car you may not legally have a handgun unless you also have a license to carry a concealed handgun. I went to the considerable effort to obtain one. The backgound check took 120 days. I know they had a lot of files to go through in my case but there is no felony there so I got my permit. I had to take the 12 hours of instruction, pass the firing range and written tests, and pay for that course and the license. I got my senior citizen discount and paid $70 for the license and the full $120 for the course.

I suppose some people are horrified that I did this. I ask them to seriously consider what they would do if they came across someone who would be killed in a minute or so if they did nothing. Screaming does not count toward helping in the case I envision. The two women who were beating Tracey did not stop until I got very close to them. The fellow with the tire tool would not be deterred by verbal threats. He would not be deterred by pepper spray/mace. I did save Tracey's life but it almost cost me mine. One of the doctors in the emergency room asked me if in the future I would stop again. I looked at her through my one good eye and promised that I would.

Don't worry, I am not going all vigilante on you like Jody Foster in "The Brave One,” in which an NPRish woman gets beaten and then goes out of her way to shoot people. The drug dealers at 12th and Chicon have not bothered me and I am not going to bother them. As the Observer story relates I have been in some very dangerous confrontations and have not used any more force than was absolutely necessary.

Pacifism in the political arena is a valid method of social change.

Not stopping to help someone who is being beaten is not legally criminal negligence. Certainly there is no law that says one must risk life and limb for someone else. One may stop and render aid but that does not include taking a punch for someone.

Not responding to a murderous attack is suicide. Refusing to be ready is very ostrich like.

One of the two APD officers took this of me at the scene. They took five pics but the frontal one tells it all. I think seeing it helps people to understand the gravity of my injuries, how vicious the attack was. It was "Exhibit #1" -- gruesome, but helpful to understanding my situation. Words can only explain so much and that is why I am a photographer. -- Alan Pogue
My History of Violence

By Alan Pogue / February 20, 2009

It was Tuesday night, and I was unable to sleep. I decided to go pick up a book—Can Humanity Change?—a dialogue between Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti and Buddhist scholars, from my darkroom studio on East Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Austin.

I was driving there when I saw two women beating another woman in the street. I steered straight at them, thinking the attackers would back off as I approached, but they kept kicking and beating their victim, who was curled up into the smallest ball she could make of herself. They were hitting her so furiously that I didn’t feel I had time to call 9-1-1, so I jumped out of my car, intending to break up the fight.

The women finally looked up, angry at the interruption, and sprang at me, throwing wild punches. That gave me an opening to shove them away from the woman on the ground, who slowly got up and began dusting herself off. That’s when I was hit twice in the back of my head, shocking me and turning my reflexes to mush.

I managed to turn around and face my attacker, and saw an African-American man in his mid-20s wearing knee-length shorts. I could see his left hand coming up to hit me again, but I was unable to jump back or raise my arms to deflect the blow. He hit me across the right side of my face with a metal object, then for good measure hit me three more times, as though he were working a speed bag. The pain from the blows nauseated me, and I turned away. One of the women took my wallet.

Someone from the nearby apartments must have called the police, because the three suddenly disappeared, leaving me stunned but still standing. Their first victim was sitting on the curb. With my mind on autopilot, I got back into my car and continued to my darkroom, where I could see in the mirror there that my right eye was swollen nearly shut, there was an inch-long gash over my left eye, and two of my front teeth were cracked.

I picked up the book and my laptop and drove back down Chicon Street toward home. Police and emergency vehicles had gathered at Rosewood and Chicon, so I stopped to talk with the woman I’d tried to help. Her name was Tracey, and she thanked me. Plenty of cars had driven by, she said, and some of them honked, but no one else had stopped.

The EMTs took my vital signs, looked into my eyes, checked my reflexes and asked a series of simple questions to determine whether my mind was functioning properly. I explained that I lived only a few blocks away. They reluctantly let me go. Knowing how awful I looked, I called my wife to warn her.

When I got home she took me to St. David’s hospital, where the doctor who stitched me up told me about a man who’d been brought in the night before. He’d stopped to help a woman with a flat tire, only to be beaten and robbed.

The psychological fallout has been complex. For weeks I was edgy. At night I dreamt of being attacked. Realizing that I had failed to watch my back, I became hypervigilant. Driving down Chicon felt like walking trails in Vietnam in 1968. Instead of watching for tripwires and punji pits, I began peering down alleys and between parked cars. An old high-school buddy delivered a 12-gauge “home defense” shotgun to my bedside, and I admit it gave me some degree of comfort.

Still, the old saw that “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged” hasn’t turned out to be true in my case. Getting hit in the face with a tire tool simply highlights the necessity of being able to defend oneself in an occasionally savage environment. Bad air, worse water, rare jobs and inequitable health care are their own forms of social violence, but as threats go they don’t carry the immediacy of a knife at the throat, a gun barrel in the ribs, or an iron bar to the face. The political right often seems unable to address social pathology without resorting to quasi-fascism, and the left wing sometimes appears almost programmatically incapable of defending itself.

What’s a self-protecting person of humanitarian instincts to do? If I’m philosophically opposed to employing potentially lethal physical force in self-defense, then isn’t it hypocritical of me to ask the police to apply that force on my behalf? Physical violence may not be the best way to solve a problem, but if I’m confronted by someone who intends to kill me, loaning them my copy of Can Humanity Change? isn’t likely to be the most effective defense.

My personal history of violence began when I got punched in the nose in the first grade. My father asked me how it happened, explained that I’d be meeting other bullies at school, and taught me how to box so I’d be prepared to take care of myself. There’s usually a bully in every class, and I changed schools often. I took judo lessons at the YMCA.

There was no fighting at St. Edward’s High School in Austin, but W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi was rougher. Two upperclassmen there singled me out for harassment, but after I bested them in boxing matches, no one else bothered me.
Attending the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, I finally had a chance to study shotokan karate. My instructor, Sensei Richardson, introduced me to aikido techniques as well. In San Francisco I was able to use those aikido moves to save a man from a beating by deflecting, but not hurting, his attacker.

In 1966 I received my draft notice and said goodbye to California. We practiced hand-to-hand combat in basic training, but my first real fight for my life took place in the latrine at Fort Carson, Colo. A soldier with a knife had me cornered at the end of a long row of sinks. Fortunately, I was able to dodge his attempts to stab me. The military police took care of him after that. In all my previous fights, I’d never had to worry that my opponent might kill me if I faltered. My boyhood was over.

In Vietnam, at different times, I carried an M-14 rifle, an M-16 rifle, a .45-caliber machine-gun, and a .45-caliber pistol. I almost always carried hand grenades. My chaplain had me carry his weapons as well as my own so no newspaper photographer could snap a picture of the armed man of God. The machine gun and pistol were his, the big sissy. The M-16 rifle was mine, even though, as a medic, I never used it. I managed to give away all but one of my ammunition clips so I could carry more bandages. I knew we shouldn’t be there, and I harbored no fascination with fully automatic weapons.

I’d grown up in Corpus Christi, close to Kingsville and “uncle” Mike Gallagher, my fifth cousin. Uncle Mike, at 21, had been the youngest man ever to be made a foreman at the King Ranch, but he was in his late 50s when I first met him. He used a straight razor to shave. He trimmed his thick fingernails with a fine Italian switchblade and filed them with a heavy triangle file. He was very kind and very tough. He never married and had no children of his own, so he “adopted” me and two other boys, David and Ernesto, took us to roundups, bought us baseball gear, and taught us how to ride and rope.

He also taught me how to use guns, so my association with firearms is a positive one, and inextricably entwined with my memory of him.
Uncle Mike had me out shooting cans with a .22 when I was barely old enough to hold a rifle.

Uncle Mike gave me a .410-gauge shotgun for my 10th Christmas and took me deer hunting on the King Ranch that same year. He handed me a Winchester .30-.30, lever-action rifle that I had never fired and told me to hold the butt of the gun firmly to my shoulder because it kicked so hard. Don’t press your cheek to the stock when you’re sighting, or it will rub a burn on your face, he told me. Aim right behind the deer’s shoulder.

With that sage advice taken, I shot my first deer.

My father had given me a Remington repeating, bolt-action .22 rifle when I was 9, and he took me hunting for dove, duck and quail, but he didn’t care for deer hunting. Only years later did I understand his reasons: He was proud that I could shoot better with my little .410 than he could with his 16-gauge Browning with its gold trigger.

My father’s father drove train for the Southern Pacific and the Katy. When he died, I inherited his pocket watch and the pistol he carried to ward off train robbers: a nickel-plated, Colt .44/.40.

Those who grow up without any functional or familial relationship to guns may associate them solely with crime and war. They’re not likely to understand, never mind share, the passion that many people—even nonviolent people—have for gun ownership.

Back in the 1970s, I lived in a small, windowless room in the University YWCA on the drag in Austin. Late one night, someone tried to get into my room. I knew it was no one who belonged in the building since I was the only person who lived there. The incident bothered me enough that I purchased a small 9 mm pistol to keep on the bed in my little cul de sac. One day I got a call from a sweet reader of The Rag, a long-defunct alternative paper, saying that an aggressive heroin dealer was downstairs and would I please photograph him. I went down and took his picture. He charged at me with a small crowbar. I ran toward Les Amis Café, and when I got to the outside seating I picked up a metal chair and threatened to hit him with it. I asked the café patrons to call the police, but they all just sat there transfixed. The heroin dealer finally turned and ran off. I published his photo in The Rag and gave a copy to the police. I carried my pistol until he was arrested.

Another time, I was walking down West 22nd Street around 9 p.m. when I saw a man trying to rape a young woman. I got him off of her, but then he attacked me. My martial arts training allowed me to subdue him even though he was wild on drugs and seemed not to feel any pain. A friend walked by and called the police.

Back in the Y late one evening, I heard the sound of a hammer striking metal. I put my 9 mm in my back pocket and looked out into the hallway. A young man, maybe 15, was attacking a vending machine. He pulled a pistol and pointed it at me. I could have shot him, but I did not. The glance I got of his gun made me think it was only a starter pistol, not a lethal weapon. We had a standoff. In the end, I was not going to shoot anyone over robbing a Coke machine, so I let him pass. I called the police, and an officer came out and took my report. He spotted the 9 mm in my back pocket and berated me for not having shot “the little punk.” In the hallway I found a book with a girl’s name in it. She was a client at the Women’s Center, and from there we learned the name of her boyfriend, the Coke robber.

The “little punk” is still alive because he encountered me and not the police. They would argue that my kind of restraint would get them killed; I’d say they’re too ready to use maximum force.

That encounter at the Y made me realize I’d better augment my 9 mm with nonlethal pepper spray and handcuffs so I’d have more options. One afternoon I was chatting with friends inside Les Amis when a distraught young man burst through the front entrance with a beer bottle in his hand. He rushed onto the wait-stand, broke off the neck of the bottle, and started screaming at the waitresses and cooks, waving the broken beer bottle at them. I approached so he couldn’t see me and grabbed him, pinning his arms to his sides, and threw him to the floor. He dropped the bottle to catch himself and then bolted out the door. Everyone was surprised mild-mannered Alan had done this. Surprised but happy.

Time passed. I lost the handcuffs, and the pepper spray turned stale. The 9 mm stayed locked in a filing cabinet. There have been other incidents, but nothing on the order of what happened to me last April 29. After thinking about the fellow who hit me in the back of the head I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to help people in distress, then I better get some more pepper spray and another type of pistol—one I’m willing to use on a human. There is a pistol on the market that fires .410 shotgun shells, as well as .45 caliber bullets of the same diameter.

I’m thinking about using the .410 shells. A small amount of birdshot would hardly be lethal, but it would be loud, it would generate a huge muzzle flash, and it would hurt. It would be a convincing deterrent.

Some would argue that this arrangement won’t have the stopping power a “real” bullet would exert on the worst-case scenario: a 300-pound homicidal maniac on drugs. Maybe so, but I’m more worried about being able to keep multiple attackers at bay—a situation in which a mere taser would be inadequate. Not killing anyone is as much a priority as not getting myself—or an innocent victim—killed. Until I have to deal with a sniper, a shot pistol will be good enough for me.

Paying attention to your surroundings is the first line of defense. Avoidance is best. Running is good. If I ever again have to save someone from being raped or beaten, I promise to call 911 first, use my pepper spray, and perhaps, as a last resort, deploy my .45/.410.

In addition to psychological trauma, I also now have $38,000 in medical bills to deal with. My present battle is with the insurance company. Tracey has left Austin and is receiving counseling. My attacker is in prison. Tracey’s attackers are at large.

A word of caution. Anyone who owns any kind of firearm must keep it under control. If it is at home, it must be locked up in such a way that no unauthorized persons can unlock it.

When I was a boy, I kept my .22 rifle and my .410 shotgun in my closet. Children were not shooting children in those days. I didn’t own a bicycle lock, either, because no one was stealing bicycles where I lived. No one worried about their children going “trick or treating.” Those days are gone. I wish we had them back. Until they return, I’m relying on more than wishes.

[Alan Pogue has photographed for social justice organizations since 1968. He studied martial arts intensively at John Blankenship’s Cha Yon Ryu and Jo Birdsong’s Aikido of Austin. He apologizes to them for his recent lapse in attention.]

Source / The Texas Observer

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Hot Damn! Marijuana in the News

Three news hits suggest that Marijuana Prohibition may be going up in smoke

By Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / February 27, 2009

Yes friends and neighbors, who would have thunk it, but marijuana prohibition may just be entering its final days. Three items in the news:

First, AG Eric Holder tells us that the raids on medical marijuana are now history. This from GottaLaugh at The Political Carnival.

Now we have a definitive, undazed, unconfused statement:

In a little-noticed remark Wednesday, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries established under state laws but technically prohibited by the federal government.

The decision marks a shift from the Bush Administration, which was more draconian in its approach to hunting those who sought to dispense marijuana for medical purposes.

Speaking at a press conference on Feb 25 with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart [see Video above], and reiterating a position made by the White House following DEA raids in California on February 4, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that ending federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries "is now American policy." The Attorney General's comments are the latest sign of a sea change in federal policy that prohibits the use of medical cannabis in the thirteen states that have enacted such laws.

Easing suffering: What a socialist, pinko commie, hippie, America-hating thing to do.
And, Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Dish chuckles about a CNBC graphic showing the pot by the numbers.
Time was: these were B-movie jokes. Now, they're
serious economic measurements. As this depression leads to greater and greater questioning of this era's Prohibition of a substance far less toxic and socially disruptive than alcohol, economists are beginning to assess the fiscal benefits of decriminalizing marijuana, especially for medical uses. And, to be frank, I've never seen anything so beautiful on CNBC.
And David Hamilton passes along the following about marijuana as economic savior:
Will Legalizing Pot Save California from its Cash Crunch?
By Bruce Mirken / February 27, 2009

California state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has announced the introduction of legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcoholic beverages. The bill, the first of its kind ever introduced in California, would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine, and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

Estimates based on federal government statistics have shown marijuana to be California’s top cash crop, valued at approximately $14 billion in 2006 — nearly twice the combined value of the state’s number two and three crops, vegetables ($5.7 billion) and grapes ($2.6 billion) — in spite of massive “eradication” efforts that wipe out an average of nearly 36,000 cultivation sites per year without making a dent in this underground industry.

Ammiano introduced the measure at a San Francisco press conference this morning, saying, “With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense. This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes,” said Ammiano. “California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana.”

“It is simply nonsensical that California’s largest agricultural industry is completely unregulated and untaxed,” said Marijuana Policy Project California policy director Aaron Smith, who also spoke at the news conference. “With our state in an ongoing fiscal crisis — and no one believes the new budget is the end of California’s financial woes — it’s time to bring this major piece of our economy into the light of day.”

Independent experts from around the world, from President Nixon’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972 to a Canadian Senate special committee in 2002, have long contended that criminalizing marijuana users makes little sense, given that marijuana is less addictive, much less toxic, and far less likely to induce aggression or violence than alcohol. For example, in an article in the December 2008 Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Australian researcher Stephen Kisely noted that “penalties bear little relation to the actual harm associated with cannabis.”

[Bruce Mirken is communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.]

Source / Marijuana Policy Project / AlterNet
The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Larry Piltz : Intimate Resurrection

Intimate Resurrection

I rise from your grave looking for you
seven weeks after your passing
seven weeks after you were plucked
from your cold repose
swaddled in linen and longing
pressed tenderly to my cleft breast
carried slowly through the doors
of your life one last time
and tucked into the bed prepared

knowing I will find you someday
I rise and look for you
in the bright glow of clear radiance
suffusing the sunny creek
and in the merry shallows
for your traipse and splash

or are you along the trail
we threshed through thickets
where we navigated the fireflies
down to the open lagoon
with its teeming hospitality
and nonchalant prescience
onto our relic pontoon dock
over which time calls timeout

sitting on the bleached creviced planks
with their rounded edges and rusted nail heads
the breath of dusk carrying last warmth
I am confident tomorrow will be the day
our love will be renewed and am content for now
with surprisingly brazen clues of your whereabouts
and shy indelible tracings of your happy exuberance
when from around the bend of cypress trunks
low to the water and in purposeful arc
glides our great blue heron friend
seeking evening sanctuary of privacy
who wavers not and eases by just before us
wing tipping slightly in our direction
in generous gesture of trust and familiarity
and with a mild chuckled squawk
lands gently nearby

knowing I will find you someday
I rise and look for you
not knowing it would be today
and so intimate and thrilling
and hoping it's not too soon

Larry Piltz / The Rag Blog

Indian Cove
Austin, Texas
February 23, 2009

The Rag Blog / Posted February 27, 2009

[+/-]

26 February 2009

Bageant Goes Trippin'

Skinny Dipping in Reality: A coot's account of the great hippie LSD enlightenment search party
By Joe Bageant / February 17, 2009

There's nothing better that 250 mics of good acid to kick start the cosmic coonhunt for Enlightenment. It takes juice. After all sonny boy, you don't knock down stars with a bee bee gun. -- Mad Dog Howard, Hippie Doper/Philosopher

First LSD trip, 1965: Tumbling, tumbling, tumbling inward with eyes closed, I could hear the spider plant hanging in the basket overhead singing in its green subatomic plant language, a hymn to the sunlight charging my bedroom atmosphere. On the back of my eyelids spun a great wheel of existence, turning both ways simultaneously generating an unearthly mournful chant that seemed to be composed of every human voice on earth. It rose in some unknown universal tongue singing, "Wheel of life, wheel of death, Bangladesh, Bangladesh. Wheel of life, wheel of death, Bangaladesh, Bangaladesh." Millions of starving faces, young men, girls, old men, babies, crones, materialized in uncountable swarms, each face transfigured by some unnamable mutual understanding that I could not share. Then they atomized, leaving the room filled with the scent of wood smoke, shit and citrus blossoms (an odor I would instantly recognize decades later in poverty stricken Central American villages.)

No words can describe an LSD trip, but let me say that at the end of this one, I sat down and cried. For happiness. My deepest hope and suspicion, the one to which I dared not cling, had been confirmed. Life could indeed be significant, piercing and meaningful.

I first took LSD in Winchester, Virginia, thanks to my gay friend George, who was being "treated" for his homosexuality with lysergic acid and enjoying every minute of treatment. Ever since reading about LSD in a Life magazine article a year before, both of us had wanted some of the stuff. Then one day George walked into my basement apartment and threw a cellophane packet onto the kitchen table. "There it is Bageant," he said. Next day, after creating a small meditative space with plants, a Tibetan mandala, and classical music on the turntable, we took it. Five years later I was still taking it at least once a week, and to this day I consider LSD the promethean spark of whatever awakening I have managed to accomplish in the life.

Hard as it is to imagine today, LSD was perfectly legal at the time. Legal and apparently not dangerous. In fact, it never even interfered with my job at a microbiological laboratory in the local Shraft's frozen food plant, but seemed to improve work. Often I arrived there still under the influence of the previous night's psychotropics and still managed to impress the hell out of the lab boss, Ray Trotta, for my ability to note extremely subtle differences in cultured bacterial colonies. Of course, when we put our eye to the same lens of the dark field colony counter, we were by no means looking at the same colony, as I skimmed across and through the colorful landscapes and towers of teeming metropoli of bacterial civilizations.

For the first time in years, my life in that small town was very enjoyable. In fact Winchester soon spawned its own small psychedelic scene, one among thousands in heartland America at the time. We never hear about them today, the media having since trivialized the entire Sixties (which actually ran into the Seventies) into a handful of newsreel snippets of the Haight Ashbury, Kent State, long hair, Vietnam and the Beatles.

In Winchester, an assortment of perhaps fifty artists, gays, hillbilly hipsters, academics from a nearby college of music, passing beatniks, and psychedelic enthusiasts had accumulated around town, hanging out at a marvelous old "dinner and juke joint" in the poor section. Winchester's good Southern burghers couldn't help but notice all this "suspicious happiness," as the mayor once called it. But because the sons and daughters of local doctors, lawyers and authorities, including the daughter of the town's prosecuting attorney, were in the mix, and because the queer son of a state senator hung out there, a hands-off policy prevailed for the first couple of years. Finally, the good fundamentalist Christians and Republican business community just couldn't take it any more.

Meanwhile, I'd gained a profile for myself through openly espousing consciousness expansion and by working to racially integrate the all white Shraft's frozen food plant, which was later accomplished when the plant got a liberal New York manager named Hank. It was hairy for a while, but together we got it done.

As an aside, last year, some forty years later, I again saw the first Negro we hired (I use the non-PC word because it was the term of the day and feels right in this telling of the times), Ted, a religious man with a spark in his eye and built like a small tank. As we sat in his little house in Winchester's still-black section, Ted, now completely white haired and with one of those post cancer bowel bags attached, recalled that "Them was the days of Jim Crow, but they wasn't the worst thing to come along." "How's that?" I asked. "Crack," he answered. "Crack be destroyin' this generation. But if God took us through Jim Crow, he can take us through crack." We clasped our hands and closed our eyes in a short prayer.

Given that I openly advocated LSD and psychedelics, my uh, notoriety, grew, resulting in becoming the town's first pot bust. Tittilating as it was for the readers of The Winchester Star, the regular fare of which featured such things as potatoes that looked like Bob Hope and large unidentified bugs brought into its offices by local farmers, the trial itself was a dismal little thing, completely uninteresting in retrospect, even to the arrestee, despite that I was facing 15 years.

Anyway, several months later I was acquitted, partly for the fact that it was one of the few pot sales I didn't make around town, but mostly because of a hard boozing old Southern attorney named Massey, who sported white linen suits and carried a load of buckshot in his ass acquired while climbing out the window after screwing some guy's wife years before. Ever savvy, he selected blacks for the jury, people who for good reasons had no fondness for Winchester's lily white judicial system and law enforcement. Massey personally did not have much use for "cullids," and believed, as we were taught in schools then, that blacks were lazy and inferior because their culture evolved in a warm climate where fruit fell out of the trees and in the absence of the need for work, they just fucked all day. At the same time he understood that "the sight of cullids in the jury box is unnerving as hell for any prosecutor, the way they sit there blinkin' so inscrutable and all. You never know what they are thinking, but you know it ain't good for the prosecution. And besides, the commonwealth's prosecuting attorney is gonna have his hands full just keeping his daughter's name from coming up in your marijuana adventures. Nachully, you are gonna mention it every chance you get, and I'm gonna give you plenty. And we're lucky as hell, boy, that he's incompetent to boot." This all turned out to be sheer prophecy.

The verdict was "not guilty." Still, there was no living in Winchester after being all over the front pages of the paper. In fact, there was no living there during the long wait for the trial anyway because waiting for anything is boring as hell in an already boring place. So I moved to a tent in Resurrection City, the Poor People's Campaign camp on Washington's national mall, to wait for the trial.

After acquittal of the charge, I was gassed up, greased and ready to hit the road. I knew there was a big-time counter-culture out there somewhere, thanks to regular trips to D.C. to get publications such as Paul Krassner's The Realist, and by damned my wife and infant child and I were going to join them for good. Several months later, after a stint in New Orleans' French Quarter at the invitation of a junkie jazz man named Ed, who'd blown through Winchester earlier with his hooker wife, Kathy, after being released from Leavenworth. N'awlins was a scene in itself, given that we lived across the street from a hippie storefront church whose sole ritual was dropping acid.

Later, while headed for San Francisco, I found myself and my little family in Boulder, Colorado. Definitely this was a culture counter to the rest of America. Hell, they were hawking LSD out loud and openly on the streets! At least a dozen of them looked at us and asked, "Do you need a place to crash brother?" Or call out, "Brother and sister, come share food with us." We wanted for very little as we worked toward buying the old psychedelic school bus, a 1947 Dodge, that became our home. Not that we lounged about in drugged out ecstasy (though there was some of that involved too). I was working at a car wash from the first week there. Also beginning a serious attempt at writing -- at first for the small alternative weeklies, dealing a little dope now and then, but increasingly I got assignments from the larger slick magazines as years went by.

* * * * *

By 1970, the great hippie wave had years before broken on the West Coast, and the backwash had reached its high water mark, flooding the streets of Boulder and surrounding mountain canyons. There, thousands of similar minded young people sat up all night discussing metaphysics, the illusory nature of the "straight" world, and the coming revolution in American consciousness and politics we all felt was coming. Here in this self dubbed "Himalayas of the New World," midnight oil burned in mountain cabins and attic apartments of the town below. From the ponderosa pine's edge, mule deer pricked their ears and looked on at the noisy outdoor camps of America's new culture gypsies --restless strange young nomads with psychotropically morphed street names and identities such as Cloud, Spaco Mike, Berkeley Betty, John The Baptist, Deputy Dawg, Chrisie the Shrimp Girl, STP John, Wabbit, Goldfinger, The Glass Man. They smoked homemades, screwed and read a lot, and diced up reality beyond recognition under the influence of bootleg insight. A weird electricity arched over everything, as blown away rap sessions drove into the starry night while sanity cowered in the back seat. Yup, this was paradise all right.

* * * * *

It's a mortal sin for writers to paraphrase their betters in the craft, but I'd have to echo the late Hunter S. Thompson in his sentiment that, I wouldn't recommend drugs and mayhem to anyone, but it's always worked for me. For starters, LSD resolved, dissolved might be a better word, my bleak black/white, right/wrong judgmentalism forged in a fundamentalist childhood. But not the way one might think. As anyone who has used much of the stuff knows, acid can melt away painful lifelong imprints with a single blast of insight. But not usually. And it's potential is never quite the same for any two people, and definitely different for a redneck kid who'd been raised on Christian fundamentalism. You start discovering from the space and life experience you already know. For me, LSD began to power deep meditations upon the meaning of Christian symbols, especially of the holy cross. Not motionless sitting meditations, but physically active ones, in this case woodcarving. As the product of generations who worked with their hands, to this day my hands must always be in motion, either playing guitar, tapping the keyboard -- "talking with my hands." So for hours, days and weeks I carved every sort of cross imaginable -- plain ones, Coptic ones, Celtic ones, coarse ones and gold leafed ones, just sitting in our school bus home by dim lantern light carving, sometimes on peyote or acid.

And often the soft presence of a gentle and loving Christ would fill the air with a sense of transcendent peace. Despite my many personal conflicts with the Police Court Jehova of Christian fundamentalism, it was becoming clear that Christ was a guy whose actions were worth deep consideration, even if you considered yourself an atheist. Police Court Jehova be damned. Other times would come zappy symbolic glimpses of quasi cosmic order: Aha! The upright bar of the cross represents the onrushing spirit and mind of man through eternity, and the horizontal crossbar stands for undifferentiated matter. And where they meet one another all we know is made manifest -- all pain, all ecstasy and everything in between. Pure existence. Years later I related this to one of the numerous Asian Buddhist masters who passed through Boulder. He crinkled up his face and laughed in recognition. This mysticism, if that's what it is, was clearly not new.

LSD, by way of a discussion with Tim Leary, also delivered the question within a question: What is the question to which my life is the answer? Right away I knew I'd rather peel that metaphysical onion the rest of my life than grovel before a hollow religious institution which flails its cowering followers with the question WHY? Why does the world exist? Why does god take little children, or allow natural disasters? Why did god put so much fucking hair on my back?

So finally, I figured out that "Why?" was never the question. "Why?" was a bullshit ontological query Christianity forced upon its followers, so its priests could pretend they had the answer, and thus control the longing masses by withholding the answer. It's sure as hell worked. People raised in Christian cultures are still asking it. And still not getting an answer because there is no answer to a non question. I was very lucky in that I never completely inherited the quest for that question, despite coming from a fundamentalist family loaded with preachers. But be damned if I wasn't forced to go out and find some other unanswerable question anyway, because I did inherit their essential grim religiosity in approach to life -- the dirty cultural/spiritual genetics of misery the loving Protestant European peasantry.

Of hundreds, I only had one bad LSD trip, one in which I felt I could not get my breath and was being smothered to death. It turned out that I actually couldn't breathe, I'd always had bad lungs and I was experiencing the onset of COPD lung disease, which would later limit my life severely. If you've never experienced suffocation under the influence of a powerful mind altering substance, I'm telling you dear hearts, you can well grasp the horror of things like waterboarding and the kind of people who'd sanction such a thing. But even that experience taught me something, showed me once again the face of mortality. Eternity. Eternity without Joe Bageant in it. We may dance, make love and argue passionately, eat, shit and extrude children onto the floor of spinning speck of cosmic dust. But the universe yawns at the whole affair.

Nevertheless, once you've seen the face of eternity, you are left with the question of what to do about it. How to respond. "How will I live my life, in light of what I have seen?" I'm still wrestling with that question -- but then that's what I had wanted, wasn't it? That Great Question which would lead to the Great Answer? LSD doesn't give answers, just questions. But used with directed and sincere effort -- to the degree that is even possible -- it can make you ask the Great Questions, the only important ones. Such as "What are you going to do to eliminate human suffering? What are you going to do, Joe Bageant, now that you have seen the faces in the Great Wheel that turns both ways simultaneously? What will be your direct action?" If you really give a shit about the world, LSD will "serious your ass up real fast," as we used to say.

Grave as such propositions appear, one must, to my mind at least, be both serious AND silly about exploring consciousness to get results, do it in the spirit of enlightened philosophical levity. Even after all these years, that spirit – when and if it happens to be available at the moment -- still gets me through the day. It enables me to face the increasing sorrows that come with age. One of the nasty little truths about life is that it gets harder with age, not easier, and that there is no prize at the bottom of the box of crackerjacks. But the good news, as I see it, is that we are inherently capable of becoming stronger and more deeply resonant with the world in a way that swamps personal misery into insignificance. Denial ceases to be the first reaction to uncomfortable truths. There are billion dollar industries in this country based upon denial and our refusal to acknowledge mortal entropy. Even death is supposed to be more or less negotiable through fitness, medical science -- and we are lied to that we are as young as well feel and act. There is no inherent virtue in being either young or old. We are young when we are young and old when we are old, and any attending virtue comes with whether or not we actualize truth

Enter Buddhism. It is damned near impossible for any literate person to launch off on a teleological trajectory without being sucked into the gravitational force of Buddhism. Especially if the launch is powered by LSD, which is the difference between a journey on foot and a ride in a rocket sled. By the way, there is no Buddhist commandment that says, "Do not take drugs," though most Buddhists do not. Nor is there one that says, "Do not drink," though it's not the most recommendable thing to do. Buddhist leader Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Boulder's Naropa Institute, got drunk often, got laid too, and was very controversial for it. Our American Calvinism makes us equate morality and rightness with prohibition, especially of pleasure. The Christian church has always been about controlling its followers. Buddhism is not so much about prohibition, except for harming life. It's not even about religion, but more about the ultimate order of the world and liberation.

There are many, many forms of Buddhism, but they all fall roughly into two types. If I may vastly over simplify -- Mahayana and Theravada, "big boat" and little boat" Buddhism. Big boat aims at the enlightenment, over many incarnations, of all sentient beings through, among other things, selfless love. Little boat holds that you are alone responsible for your own enlightenment through your actions, and may possibly achieve liberation in a single lifetime -- enlightenment being the liberation from the desires that create unhappiness and pain in mankind. As I said, I am vastly oversimplifying here, which is sure to put American trust fund babies in ashrams around the country and elderly Theravadan gurus into a snit, generating an onslaught of disputative email, but the essence is correct as far as I'm concerned.

There is a lineage of Buddhism which translates as "crazy wisdom." It is the antithesis of what westerners usually think of in conjunction with religion, and it's purposefully full of irreverence, goofiness, shifting perspectives and absurdity. Crazy Wisdom has been described as the unifying metaphysical force field of "poets, philosophers, artists and gurus and other crazy fools gushing with wisdom." In one variant, the great Japanese poet monk Ikkyu found antidote to Zen formality in whorehouses and bars, i.e., "Her mouth played with my cock the way a cloud plays with the sky." For whatever reasons, the "People of the Book," Judaism, Christianity and Islam, opted out of the wine and blowjobs, which may partly explain the general crabbiness and vindictiveness that inspires them to enthusiastically kill other people who disagree with them, not to mention each other during such things as The Crusades, or more recently in Gaza.

By no means am I an adept at crazy wisdom, thus I am sure thousands of folks sitting zazen in Boulder and San Francisco are livid at my sloppy explanation and less than deeply dedicated application of its principles. "Using crazy wisdom as an excuse to escape the discipline of Buddhism," is the usual charge. Which is much the same discipline ridden thinking as that of my Baptist-Pentecostal boyhood. Lawdy Miss Claudy, the American system instills a psycho-sexual love of discipline in all of us. No sex in the park bushes, no marijuana for Americans, but rather debt slavery and airport cavity searches by direct orders from the Christian police court Yaweh, whose face is now the Department of Homeland Security. It all comes down to just how much discipline is the right amount for an individual. A thirsty man needs but one drink of water to continue his journey, not the whole tank. Drinking the tank not only halts the journey, but in all likelihood kills the traveler. At any rate, as the years go by, what I take or mistake to be crazy wisdom continuously opens inner doors, even given my poor discipline (and small intermittent doses of it at that).

Crazy Wisdom was brought to Boulder in early 1971 by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a remarkable Chinese/Tibetan guru whose confrontational, unpredictable teaching style was smart, and controversial. Rinpoche ("The Rinp") put away quarts of Johnnie Walker scotch, possessed an overwhelming charisma and humor, and turned your mind inside out, emptying it of its conditioned defenses. Rinpoche was both an enlightened teacher and an intentional charlatan, which if you think about it, is exactly in the spirit of crazy wisdom. He never doubted for a moment that all who came within his presence benefited from the experience. I remember an occasion when he arrived in town dead broke, though already with a couple of followers. "The Rinp" was invited to dinner at the Pygmy Farm, an early commune in Boulder. Upon leaving, Rinpoche gave the commune members a bill for his attendance. Which makes perfect sense when you consider that Crazy Wisdom forces change through confronting convention at every turn and by any means available. Another one of those things you either get or don't get. Although it's about the purest wordless kind of awareness, being literate does help you start to get it, which is why it attracts so many highly intelligent people.

* * * * *

By no means am I stretching things to say ours was a more literate generation. Most of the hippies I hung with in Boulder followed the contemporary literary scene, had read Hesse, Joyce and Mann, Hobbes, Faulkner, Freud, Jung, Huxley, and had a passing knowledge of such things as Zen and Sufism. Not to mention an expanded consciousness. So when Rinpoche explained how the "mind is emptiness, the true world is empty" and that "the emptiness is permanent and all else is merely passing mental display" they could get their heads around it. And have room to spare.

At the time however, I too often judged Rinpoche from my born-and-bred American perspective and background, so I missed a great learning opportunity, many in fact, regarding Rinpoche Trungpa. If nothing else, I owe Trungpa, for several things, some of them minor, such as coming to understand that the Tibetan Book of the Dead is a manual for living. And some of them major, such as that I'd lived most of my life in my head in an effort to avoid suffering.

All these years later I am beginning to understand the effect living for a decade or so in a genuinely free time and place had on my life. Thanks to an ongoing a ttempt to understanding human consciousness, everything has changed over time. Yet nothing has changed at all, except my attitude toward everything. And yes, LSD had everything to do with it. When it comes to rewiring one's own neuro-circuitry toward ecstatic understanding and perception and playful wisdom, and real compassion, LSD and Buddhism can certainly jump start the awakening. Paradoxically, that awakening is to a dream. You come to see very clearly that the "It is the dream that is dreaming the dreamer." Such liberating insights are big as stars. And like Mad Dog says, "You don't knock down stars with a bee bee gun."

* * * * *

But if I never get another look at the face of God on acid or pick up another splinter of insight for the rest of my life, it'll be too goddamned soon for me! Life may be a shit sandwich all right, but brain damage ain't ketchup either! -- The Mad Dog in retrospection

Then that arc of electricity in the Himalayas of the New World snapped, and thus began what I call Enlightenment Fire Sale. For almost a decade change had come down like rain through the ozone (we still had some ozone left in those days) and Boulder found itself morphing into a metaphysical beachhead, a seething marketplace of salvation salesmen and exotic snake oil peddlers -- hawkers of truth and burning skyfulls of revelation. The Ten Commandments played in the park, consciousness tramps did Sufi slapstick in the alleys, while more introverted souls curdled their brains as they saw fit, for about a buck a dose. In the throes of the new consumerism Boulder consumed every cosmic thing imaginable, short of a giant asteroid, even though it was surely contemplated during the comet Kahotek. But still no avatars. No ship of deliverance. No change in the price of bananas or sidewinder missiles.

Desire turned to demand, then exhaustion, disillusionment or plain boredom. Having lifted veil upon veil, mortality still grinned across the void, offering no new deals. The Cold War was thriving as much as ever. The murdering bastards in charge still had the upper hand.

The hippie generation represented a massive threat to Cold War America, already hell bent on Global Empire, but not acknowledging such. The harder you looked around at America, the more terrible the shock. Slow leaks in the bucket of our national destiny. Within that advanced core of the most optimistic, best educated and most visionary generation America ever produced, belief seeped away. Yet it nevertheless launched the ecological movement, the health food movement, and attempted to open up the closed darkness of American power politics, which made it avant-garde.

Avant-gardes are, by definition, small. Despite the claims of graybeard stock brokers and aging realtors at cocktail parties, the majority of the generation never took part in the movement. They were the same as they are today, concerned more with sports, pussy and bling. Oh, they smoked pot, talked the talk, but that's about all. Thomas Frank documented this very well in The Marketing of Cool. Still, they were more open than the previous generation, and certainly more open than they are now.

Meanwhile, many, if not most, of those dedicated to the movement did not grow so fat and well-heeled as they aged. I can name many dozens who've remained true to their beliefs at great personal cost to their lives and families. A few still live on their humble organic back-to-the-land plots, or spent their lives teaching in school systems that keep on rotting despite their own best efforts, because the schools are themselves part of a degraded Empire of the type against which they fought. Or working in social services or the ecology and earth movement. (Speaking of which, I still hold the Rainbow Family and its gatherers to be among the highest order of men and women in America.) Many, if not most of the true blue hippies now suffer the gloom and depression of any intelligent and soulful person in this age. But they endure. Few of them as there are compared to the 300 million American other-minded souls around them, they endure.

Often at my speaking engagements or readings, I see one or more of them in the audience -- long gray hair, loose fitting sensible well worn clothing, soft eyes, and perhaps an herbal amulet around the neck or in the hair. I look very directly at them from the podium, until that old electric flash of mutual recognition pops. Immediately after the reading or talk or whatever, I seek them out if at all possible (press agents sometimes screw this up). Always there is the big smile and the hug.

And we are again brothers and sisters," as we used to sincerely address each other on the street. And again I have been granted the gift, that brief spark of unquestioned mutual love and goodwill in a darkening time.
* * * * *

For Cindy, who drove the getaway car, and Tim, who rode shotgun during the entire affair.

Source / Joe Bageant

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Dr. Stephen R. Keister : Health Care Reform? Follow the Money

Sen. Ted Kennedy has been leadiing "quiet negotiations" on health care reform. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite / Pool / UPI.
Our nation invests twice as much as most nations in medical costs, 31% of which goes to insurance company salaries and advertising costs. Our prescription drugs cost at least twice what they cost in European nations.
By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / February 27, 2009

In this old curmudgeon's opinion President Obama presented a first rate program in his speech to Congress. As a proud liberal it was satisfying that he articulated the economic program which he has planned in a way that most Americans can understand the content. Of course there are issues in his overall program, re civil rights, rendition, and lack of ardor in pursuing the last administration’s criminal conduct, that we can take exception to; however, on balance I must agree with Chris Matthews’ post address comments, that by and large he veered toward the left. Yet I am quite concerned regarding the conference about health care that is planned for next week at the White House.

A release from Physicians for a national Health Care Program on Feb. 24, tells us that the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are drowning Washington in money in opposition to universal, single payer health care. There are surely certainly multiple ominous signs:

1) Sen. Max Bauchus several weeks ago announced that universal single payer care was "off the table.” As I noted in an earlier submission to The RagBlog, Sen. Bauchus, according to OpenSecrets.org, has enjoyed outstanding campaign contributions from the insurance, pharmaceutical and health care industries.

2) Campaign For America’s Future in a recent publication -- “Health Care – Kennedy-led workhorse group nears consensus on individual mandates:”

Led by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), a diverse group of senators, lobbyists for health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, small businesses, and doctors have been in quiet negotiations on a prospective universal health care plan since last fall. Although "not all industry groups are in complete agreement,” they are "embracing the idea that comprehensive health care legislation should include a requirement that every American carry insurance.”

When I read about "quiet negotiations," why does Vice President Cheney's secret negotiations with the oil companies in 2001 come to mind? As with Cheney -- not including the nature preservationists, or opponents of global warming -- there is no mention of Sen. Kennedy including Physicians for a National Health Program, the California Nurses Union, or any labor union or consumer organizations to his discussion. Further, the mandate that citizens must purchase health insurance is a concession to the insurance industry, in spite of the fact that certain constitutional scholars have raised the objection that an individual cannot be required by law to buy from a private industry. To do so is not taxation, but a very unique obligation.

3) Physicans For A National Health Care Program on Feb. 20, publicly requested Sen. Kennedy to provide universal coverage and keep costs low. It was once again pointed out that the Massachusetts model of health care is a failing plan and further pointed out that we are facing a health care crises in this country because private insurers are driving up costs with unnecessary overhead, bloated executive salaries and an unquenchable quest for profits -- all at the expense of American consumers. "'Massachusetts failed attempt at reform is little more than a repeat of experiments that haven't worked in other states. To repeat that on a model would be nothing short of Einstein's definition of insanity.”

With the release of the PNHP press statement was published an open letter signed by some 600 Massachusetts physicians, addressed to Sen. Kennedy, requesting that he consider single payer, universal health care. More on physician participation later save to note that PNHP incorporates 15,000 doctors, and their plan, incorporated in HR 676, is endorsed by the 150,000 member American College of Physicians. It should be noted that the American Medical association has never publicly endorsed universal single payer care; however, the AMA also opposed Medicare when it was enacted, and has always been cozy with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Further, less than 50% of physicians in this country are members of the AMA.

I would suggest that all readers familiarize themselves with HR 676 at: JohnConyers.com and further note the hundreds of endorsements of same here and here.

4.) To date we have heard nothing from the Republicans about a reasonable health care policy, but one can assume that their solution will be tax cuts for the wealthy, and undying support for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries with strict opposition to any program that will aid the working families, the poor, and the disabled!

I was interested to see the practicing physicians in Massachusetts sign an open letter. This is an unusual act these days, as I have seen little more than isolated activity in the medical community, to speak out for the betterment of our citizenry as a whole. Exceptions as I indicated are PNHP and the ACP. I have thought about this quite a bit and do not want to generalize; hence, my conclusions are non specific.

When I started practice in 1950, as the first rheumatologist in Northwestern Pennsylvania, the physician thought of himself as a PROFESSIONAL, answerable to no-one, driven by the challenge of healing the sick, and bound by the Hippocratic Oath. We expected to make a decent living but making money was not a driving force. We lived with a certain amount of idealism and a desire to care for the poor and underprivileged. Then, when the control of American medicine was ceded to the insurance industry some 30 years ago, the physician ceased to be his own person, became a paid tradesman rather than a professional.

With this came physician advertising in the yellow pages and in newspapers, and the commercialization of the practice of medicine. No longer was the physician a friend and confidant to his patient, he became, in insurance industry parlance, a "provider.” With the transformation of a profession into a trade, money became very important, as money is the basis of the insurance industry. We in the United States have undergone a complete cultural upheaval concerning what constitutes a medical practice, even seeing the advent of boutique (pre-paid ) medical care if one can afford it.

No longer does one enjoy an hour’s probing conversation, and physical examination with the physician at first meeting. Now one fills out a 4-6 page "medical history" and spends a considerable time with a nurse practitioner or PA. One assume that the poor overworked physician is on the telephone getting his daily approvals from an insurance company lackey. Herein lies the problem with getting wide spread physician support for universal health care. The doctor is too busy, or too frightened of losing his income if he riles his insurance company, or hospital, master. Yes, today many physicians who appear to be in private practice, are employees of a hospital, which dictates their hours, their fees and their practice methods. It probably accounts for hospitals’ advertising on TV or with full page newspaper ads.

Further, remember that we in the United States, under the stranglehold of the insurance/pharmaceutical cartels, rank #26 in the civilized world in quality and delivery of medical care. Our nation invests twice as much as most nations in medical costs, 31% of which goes to insurance company salaries and advertising costs. Our prescription drugs cost at least twice what they cost in European nations. Yet it seems in the present climate in the House and Senate that many of "the people’s representatives" will bow to the will of their paymasters.

The White House conference on "health care,” as I understand it, is scheduled for next week. Are all of the unions, municipal bodies, religious and charitable organizations that have signed on to support HR 676 going to be represented? It is time we make it loud and clear to our Representatives and Senators that it is the PEOPLE that they represent and not the special interests, Let us not allow health care to continue to be prostituted to big money and the corrupt industry that controls it now. The combined salaries of the CEOs of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies could provide health care for hundreds of thousands of individual citizens if it was invested in a non-profit single payer/universal system.

It should be noteed as well that NaturalNews.com on Feb. 20, reported that without any fanfare, pharmaceutical companies have been raising the prices of many of their drugs by 100% or more, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota.

Follow the money! And remember Will Rogers: "Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate; now what's going to happen to us with both a Senate and a House?"

[For previous Rag Blog articles on health care reform by Dr. Stephen R. Keister, go here.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Only a few posts now show on a page, due to Blogger pagination changes beyond our control.

Please click on 'Older Posts' to continue reading The Rag Blog.